Hounslow Council held a conference on Monday on the regeneration of the borough post-Covid. There were some eye-wateringly shocking figures bandied about. With the Chancellor’s furlough scheme due to end at the end of October, the council is braced for a spike in unemployment.
Nearly a third of Hounslow residents have been furloughed; 55,600 people, or 31% working age population. As companies find they can no longer afford to keep people on once the Government subsidy is removed, the unemployment rate is expected to rise to over 10% in the borough, with the expected loss of 8,000 jobs by 2021. This is largely because of the borough’s dependency on Heathrow, with most of the impact being taken by those areas closest to the airport, but the council’s projections show that no area of the borough is immune, with job losses expected even in the affluent eastern end of the borough.
Hounslow is not used to having a long term unemployment problem. The borough’s 15,000 businesses include some big players – not just Heathrow, but Sky, Glaxo Smith Kline and Brentford Football Club as well as the many national and international businesses whose UK headquarters are at the Chiswick Business Park. Between them they generate £14 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy – the seventh highest of the 33 London boroughs.
But all that looks set to change with the flatlining of the air travel industry since the outbreak of the pandemic. 12,000 businesses in the borough reported that they had suffered a negative impact because of the coronavirus. 8,000 suspended trade during the lockdown and the resulting reduction in Hounslow’s GVA is projected to be £2.7 billion (15%).
Images above: LB Hounslow Chief Executive Niall Bolger; Council leader Steve Curran, who chaired the conference
A third of residents think it will take more than a year to get back to normal
Chief Executive Niall Bolger told the conference that the borough were proud of the way in which they’d coped with the pandemic. At its peak they were delivering more than 800 food parcels per week, aided by 450 residents who volunteered to help. The borough has 23,000 residents who have been shielding.
In a survey carried out for the council it was revealed that 32% of the borough’s residents think it will take more than a year for things to get back to normal, if ever. There are still a considerable number of people who are worried about food supplies, with 12% of those surveyed believing that no one would come to their aid if they were bed bound.
Huge increases in homelessness and domestic abuse
Job losses are expected to have the greatest impact on lower skilled, lower paid and older (50+) people he said. There has already been an increase of 157% in the number of people needing temporary accommodation during lockdown and 1,000% increase in the number of rough sleepers.
As has been reported in the national media, the lockdown had an adverse impact on those who are vulnerable to abuse. In LB Hounslow domestic abuse referrals were 139% up on figures for the same time last year. Child protection services saw a 60% increase in referrals over the same period as last year.
The council’s response to all this is to have set up specific task forces looking at economic recovery, community ties, social and well-being impact and the environment. They are looking for engagement from people with relevant skills and seeking the advice of the borough’s big businesses in beginning to reshape the local economy.
Children have returned to school “relatively successfully” said Niall Bolger, but he warned the borough has one of the highest adult and child rates of diabetes in the country. Currently we are at 29 per 100,000 Covid infections, but the council is gearing up for a second wave.
“We will be ramping up our response” he said, on the day that the Government introduced the maximum of six people from two households for social gatherings.